As the passage of time has proven, a lot of people loved Michael Jackson. And even though plenty of people in the media attacked him, Jackson never really had any formal rivals or nemeses, mostly because Jackson was on a much higher plane than most any other contemporary star. But Jackson did have one notable rival in the 1980s: Prince.

It made sense that the two would be put head-to-head, as there were a number of similarities between the two. Both men split the difference between funk, R&B and disco in their music. Both dominated the album charts for months at time (Jackson with Thriller, Prince with Purple Rain). Later, both would become known for reclusiveness and retreat to private compounds (Neverland for Jackson, Paisley Park for Prince), both would raise a lot of questions about their personal lives (Jackson’s legal trouble, Prince’s religious fervor) and both had issues with their record labels (Jackson accused Sony chief Tommy Mottola of being a racist, while Prince spent years trying to protract himself from his Warner Bros. contract).

The media had always painted them as being rivals but the truth seemed to be that they respected each other. Michael did want to make Bad a duet with Prince, but according to some media outlets he was unhappy with the line “Your butt is mine” and pulled out.

Quincy Jones on the other hand, said that they both met up, Prince heard the song and decided that he wasn’t needed for the track and that it would be a hit without him anyway. Quincy usually tells it how it is, so I tend to believe him.

Michael enjoyed playing up to the rivalry a little. There’s an old clip on YouTube of a James Brown concert, with both Michael and Prince in the audience. James calls Michael down to the stage and Michael sings and dances a little, then Michael whispers to James to call down Prince. So James does. As soon as Prince was making his way to the stage, Michael disappears!

 But did Jackson and Prince really dislike each other? The evidence suggests that the rivalry was for real, if not a bit one-sided. On his 2004 album Musicology, Prince had a lyric that went, “My voice is getting higher/And Eye ain’t never had my nose done/That’s the other guy.” He also ducked out of the Jackson-helmed “We Are The World” sessions (though he did end up donating a song to the benefit album). However, recent interviews with former Prince band members reveal a more genial side. “They’d shoot hoops at Paisley Park,” longtime Prince drummer Bobby Z told the Star-Tribune. Prince had a deep-seeded competitive nature, so it’s easy to see where he would measure himself against Jackson’s success. Engineer David Z told a story about Prince’s attempt to play ping-pong with Jackson. “Michael drops his paddle and holds his hands up in front of his face so the ball won’t hit him. Michael walks out with his bodyguard, and Prince starts strutting around like a rooster. ’Did you see that? He played like Helen Keller.’”

Jackson didn’t seem to go on record about Prince — in fact, he rarely had a negative word for anybody. Today it’s almost logical for two huge stars to go head-to-head (Jay-Z and Nas, 50 Cent and Kanye West), but it’s doubtful we’ll ever see two huge rivals like Jackson and Prince again.

 

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